A celebration of swimming: the wild and wonderful Bantham Swoosh

Swimmers took to the chilly waters of the River Avon estuary in Devon last weekend to take part in the Bantham Swoosh - a 6km wild swim to the sea organised by the Outdoor Swimming Society. Carys Matthews takes on the challenge...

27th June 2017
A view of the Outdoor Swimming Society's annual Bantham Swoosh looking down the river Avon towards the finish at Bantham Beach/Credit: OSS

Taking a deep breath and adjusting my goggles one last time, I plunged into the murky waters of the River Avon estuary in Devon. Pushing aside clumps of seaweed, I tentatively put my face in the water. Argh! An arm caught me sharply across the nose as a fellow swimmer attempted to navigate her way through the teeming bodies. “Sorry!” she cheerily shouted with an apologetic wave as she swam past. 

After a short bus ride from the finish in Bantham, swimmers enter the water at Aveton Gifford/Credit: OSS
Swimmers enter the water at Aveton Gifford/Credit: OSS

With two swimming slots to choose from, my training partner (and Swoosh veteran) Rosee and I signed up for the ‘Dusk’ swim after deciding that the ‘Dawn’ option was just a bit too early for us. 

The two swims are timed according to the tide timetables - the water is slightly warmer come dusk/Credit: OSS
The two swims are timed according to the tide timetables - the water is slightly warmer come dusk/Credit: OSS

Starting at Aveton Gifford and ending at Bantham beach, the third Bantham Swoosh saw 425 swimmers – aged between 16 to 70 years old - take part at each end of the day. 

A fun social event, most swimmers finish between 1.5 and 2 hours/Credit: OSS
A fun social event that take in the beauty of the natural environment/Credit: OSS

Swimming through twisty coils of seaweed and debris made the initial 1 km or so slow, but forcing myself not to panic (not always easy when you have a rope of seaweed wrapped around your neck), I took a couple of deep breaths and eased into the swim. Rich in wildlife, the River Avon estuary is home to fish, birds, seaweed and tree roots, although I suspect most were hidden in the reeds as a large wetsuit-clad shoal of swimmers flowed towards the sea. 

Rich in wildlife, the River Avon estuary is home to fish, birds, seaweed and tree roots./Credit: OSS
Rich in wildlife, the River Avon estuary is home to fish, birds, seaweed and tree roots./Credit: OSS

As the estuary opened up and each swimmer settled into their own pace I found myself enjoying the experience. Each time I turned to take a breath, I drank in the beautiful rolling Devon countryside and open sky.

Intrepid swimmers brave the choppy waters/Credit: OSS
Intrepid swimmers brave the choppy waters/Credit: OSS

As the water began to clear, I spied the sandy bottom of the estuary, dotted with shells and the odd fish darting just out of reach. Somewhere around the 3km mark I started to feel a sense of elation, which I suspect is when the elusive swimmers’ ‘flow’ kicked in.  This is moment all long-distance swimmers crave - when you lose yourself in the moment and swimming feels effortless. 

Swimmers enjoy the natural environment during the swim/Credit: OSS
Swimmers enjoy close connection with the natural environment during the swim/Credit: OSS

The current helps propel swimmers, however windy weather had created a chop to the water. The estuary was going to make me work a bit harder today. Unlike swimming in a warm indoor swimming pool, swimming outdoors offers a different experience, depending on the weather, water temperature and time of year. Each swim is a mini adventure. While some hardy souls swim without use of a wetsuit, with the water temperature only 14 or 15 degrees on Saturday, I was glad of the extra layer as I tend to get very cold if I'm in the water for long periods. Hyperthermia isn't fun! 

The iconic Pink House marks the start of the 'Swoosh'/Credit: OSS
The iconic Pink House marks the start of the 'Swoosh'/Credit: OSS

As the boats houses and anchored boats came into view, I gritted my teeth for the final push as my body was lifted up and down with the rhythm of the tide, making me feel slightly seasick. Following a bobbing line of orange caps onwards it wasn’t long before the pink house came into view, signalling the start of the ‘swoosh’ and I prepared for the beach finish, which is overlooked by Burgh Island - where Agatha Christie once stayed and wrote two of her novels. 

Burgh Island and the art deco Burgh Island Hotel, where Agatha Christie found peace and inspiration to write/Credit: Getty
Burgh Island and the art deco Burgh Island Hotel, where Agatha Christie found peace and inspiration to write/Credit: Getty

The natural and exhilarating swoosh occurs when the ebbing tide rushes to the sea and passes through a narrow stretch of the river, accelerating swimmers up to four times their normal speed. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of keeping too far left and bypassed much of the swoosh experience, but nothing could take away the sense of achievement I felt as I hauled myself out of the water to be greeted by cheering spectators, including my own personal support crew of Dad and boyfriend. I may have missed the final swoosh, but the Bantham Swoosh is a fun, inspiring and beautiful event and I didn't want it to end!  Can I go again?

Luckily, the River Dart 10km awaits...

Can I go again? Carys Matthews at the finish on Bantham beach/Credit: Delwyn Matthews
Can I go again? Carys Matthews at the finish on Bantham beach/Credit: Delwyn Matthews

 

Carys Matthews at Bantham beach: a fun, inspiring and beautiful wild swim - a real celebration of swimming/Credit: Delwyn Matthews
Carys Matthews at Bantham beach: a fun, inspiring and beautiful wild swim - a real celebration of swimming/Credit: Delwyn Matthews

The Bantham Swoosh swim is organised by the Outdoor Swimming Society

Swimmers are welcomed to the finish line by spectactors on Bantham beach/Credit: OSS
Swimmers are welcomed to the finish line by spectactors on Bantham beach/Credit: OSS

 

Main image: A view of the Outdoor Swimming Society's annual Bantham Swoosh looking down the river Avon towards the finish at Bantham Beach/Credit: OSS

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